Guest post from our series on Property Futures, by Yeonhwa Lee at Urban Intelligence:
Open-data revolution meets planning
The property industry is on the cusp of a technological revolution — a revolution that has shaken many if not most other industries but somehow left the property sector largely untouched. Slowly but surely, the property industry has begun incorporating technology and data to fundamentally change how built environment professionals work and how their clients access services. The open-data revolution is at the heart of this transformation.
The US was the first country to make all government data (excluding personal and national security information) “open by default” seven years ago, and Britain soon followed suit, rising to score the highest on the open-data index score worldwide. The result, in the UK property sector, has been the emergence of companies that build on and curate such open data, such as Land Insight, which helps developers find off market land by presenting data on ownership rights and past planning applications, and GeoLytix, which has collected and mapped information of over 10,000 supermarkets in the UK and provides chains with insights on opportunities for new stores. Other companies such as Zoopla and Rightmove are also worth mentioning, for creating online real estate search platforms that bring the information directly to consumers.
The above is a snapshot of 2016: data is constantly being collected, published, and curated, and the “world of bricks and mortar” is beginning to see its value. The property sector is undergoing a transformation to become faster, simpler, and more transparent. In 20 years, the disruption brought by the open-data revolution will have matured, and the data, technology, and tremendous increase in efficiency and unambiguity will seem unexceptional, just as now we can’t imagine the days before Google Maps.
All of this sounds great. However, there is one caveat. The innovations occurring in the property sector will not fully realise their potential to streamline processes if the ultimate hurdle that private sector actors must jump over, the planning system, remains as it is today: with minimal exposure to technological revolution and accepting slowness and inefficiency as an inherent characteristic of the public sector. The UK planning system has seen little innovation since its inception in 1947, and researching planning policies to understand what exactly is allowed remains a labour-intensive, time-consuming, and costly task.
This is where we come in.
Urban Intelligence seeks to revolutionise the way built environment professionals interact with the planning system. We are building a search engine that allows one to access all planning policies (currently dispersed in various formats, on websites of inconsistent layouts) relevant to one’s area of interest on a single, central platform. Furthermore, we plan to embed this policy data into 2D, 3D maps, so that planners, architects, and developers can visually understand how the textual policy manifests in the real world.
Planning policies are open data, but they are not in user-friendly formats despite the extensive research and interaction required to comprehend them. Urban Intelligence seeks to pool and curate this data, so that navigating through the planning system is up to speed with how information is shared and decisions are made in the private sector. Breakthroughs in the private sector must be complemented by innovations in the public sector. Urban Intelligence is here to bridge the gap.